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91st Oscars Backstage Interview Transcript: BEST PICTURE and WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

SPEECH BY: Jim Burke, Charles B. Wessler, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga


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Q. Congratulations. 
A. (Jim Burke)  Thank you.

Q. There was a while there where it seemed that your picture was under siege.  Everybody was taking potshots at you.  Was that discouraging, and did you believe in the film all along? 
A. (Jim Burke)  I'll just say, yes, it was discouraging; but we always went back to the film.  And when we had a bad day, we'd pop in the movie, and we were reminded that we're all really proud of this film, all of us and all of the over 500 people who helped make it.

Q. I'm wondering if since Donald Shirley was omitted from the thank you speech, that you had anything that you wanted to say about Donald Shirley.  And, also, I'm wondering if the controversy surrounding the storytelling and the lens through which the story was told will change the way that you tell stories in the future. 
A. (Nick Vallelonga)  You get nervous up there.  Donald Shirley, obviously, we all thanked him.  Mahershala, we gave him a great thank you.  Don, if you're discussing the Don Shirley family thing, that falls on me; but Don Shirley himself told me to not speak to anyone.  He told me the story that he wanted to tell.  He protected his private life and all the things, other things about him, miraculous things about him.  He's an amazing man.  He told me, If you're going to tell the story, you tell it from your father, me.  No one else.  Don't speak to anyone else.  That's how you have to make it.  And, also, he told me, Don't make it until after I pass away.  So I just kept my word to that man.  I wish I could have reached out to Don Shirley's family.  I didn't even know they really existed until after we were making the film, and we contacted his estate for music; and then the filmmakers, we invited them all to screenings and discussions.  But I personally was not allowed to speak to his family, per Don Shirley's wishes.  I'm an Italian from New York.  They call that a stand up guy.  I kept my word to the man, and that's the reason for that.  So, but Don Shirley and my father together had an amazing story together and went on the road and changed each other; and I think that comes out.  That's why the film is what it is.  It's because of the both of them.

Q. It was a very open race this year, Best Picture.  It was very hard to say who was going to win.  Did you honestly expect you could win, and how big did you think your chances were of winning? 
A. (Peter Farrelly)  Yeah.  Of course, we were nominated, and so we thought we could win; but we didn't expect it, honestly.  I mean, I never really    honestly, I kind of block it out.  It's like if I watch a football game and I need my team to score, I just leave the room, and they will.  If I'm watching them, they won't.  So I just kind of thought about everything but winning this thing, and it worked. 
A. (Charles B. Wessler)  I just want to say one thing.  These guys may or may not agree with me, but when    when    I'm forgetting the name of the actress who gave us the award.  I don't know why.
A. (Jim Burke)  Julia Roberts.
A. (Charles B. Wessler)  Julia Roberts.  She opened up    thank you.  She opened up the thing, and I'm not kidding, I started to talk to my friend sitting next to me; and she said GREEN BOOK, and I    so just to let you know, were we thinking we could win?  I kind of forgot that we could, and, you know   
A. (Jim Burke)  And Carrie Fisher right there.
A. (Charles B. Wessler)  Oh, oh, you know, did anybody notice that they cut the mic on me, or did anybody hear?  They didn't?  Did you hear the Carrie Fisher remark? 
Q. Yeah. 
A. (Charles B. Wessler)  Great. 

Q. Nick, I wanted to ask you a question.  Can you talk about why you thought this movie just resonated with people, and what do you think it says about the 60s and race relations and the blacks and whites sometimes occasionally coming together in that era?
A. (Nick Vallelonga)  That's a pretty big question for me to answer.  It just was an amazing story from when I was a kid.  I met Dr. Shirley when I was a kid.  I went to his home.  I went to Carnegie Hall.  I sat on the throne.  I saw his beautiful African robes, and I saw the man that he was.  And I saw the change in my father when he came home and over the years how he brought us up.  So when he told me the story, and I    because he was so angry when he went on this trip with Dr. Shirley of what he saw and witnessed, that's what changed him.  So that's what brought us up.  He told us these stories, and I said, Wow, I can't believe that guy, the genius that he was, the unbelievable musician that he was, the man that he was.  All the things he had to go through, I couldn't believe it myself.  So I just thought, this is a    you know, an opposites and odd couple movie.  It had a lot of things, but mostly it dealt with the racism of that time.  So I always knew I wanted to tell the story, and I spoke to my father about it.  I taped him.  I spoke to Dr. Shirley hours and hours and hours getting his blessing and telling me what I could put in and what I couldn't; and I always knew I was going to do it.  So I had to wait.  Luckily, he lived a long life.  And, but when I finally decided to do it, I brought Brian in to write with me, and we brought Peter in to write with me; and we, all of us from the writing to the production to the casting, the cast and crew, everyone knew we were telling an important story.  And there's lots of ways to tell a story about that subject.  This was our little story, and I think it's as valid as any.  And I think it resonates with some people, because it's a small story about two people.  And Pete kept telling us we were right, and we've got to keep it about the two people.  It's about their relationship and how they changed each other in a time when it was crazy, obviously.  So I think we brought great honor to Dr. Shirley.  His name is out in the world.  We brought great honor to the Green Book.  People know about the Green Book.  And Pete directed a magnificent film, and here we are. 

Q. This is for you, Peter.  In the back of your mind or in the front of your mind was Viggo Mortensen's character at all related to the people who wear MAGA hats today, or Donald Trump?  And what is your message from the film to America in this very polarized political time?
A. (Peter Farrelly)  I never thought of him as a MAGA guy.  It's a different era, and it's a    you know, whether he would have been one of those guys, I don't know; but he was a guy who was flawed in the beginning and learned by being in a car with a man who was completely different from him, but they were in the car for a couple months, and they got to know each other, and they realized they had a lot more in common than they thought they did starting out this journey.  And the message is, talk to each other, and you'll find out we all have a lot in common.  And, you know, it's a hopeful message, because sometimes it seems like there is no hope, but there is.  All we have to do is talk, and we get closer together.  I know that sounds corny and like, you know, Pollyanna ish, but it's the truth.  The only way to solve problems is to talk.

Q. Thank you so much, gentlemen, and congratulations.
A. (Peter Farrelly)  Thank you very much.



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